ANALYSIS: BYU (and Arizona) contain Tate in season opener
Arizona's Khalil Tate aims the football before throwing it during the third quarter of the UA vs. BYU game.
What was considered by most to be the strongest link in Arizona football’s armor, the Wildcat offense, looked like Arizona’s weakest unit on Saturday night against BYU.
The group is headlined by preseason Heisman-hopeful Khalil Tate and was one that was assesed before the opening kickoff as the foundation that head coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff were going to build their new program on. If that’s the case, the Wildcat staff needs to pour some more concrete.
The offensive machine that was supposed to keep the ‘Cats competitive in games did the exact opposite on the opening night at Arizona Stadium.
The offense spent the majority of the night sputtering and stalling out, never gaining momentum and failing to deliver on the excitement of new beginnings with their new, offensive-minded head coach.
The success Kevin Sumlin has had with quarterbacks in the past is overstated, with QBs like Case Keenum and Johnny Manziel being the first to come to mind. With his past track record, many Wildcats fans and casual college football fans have come to expect Khalil Tate to be molded into a similar image to Johnny Football.
Instead, Tate looked like a lesser version of Keenum, forced to sit in the pocket and rely almost entirely on his arm to inflict damage on the Cougars.
Rarely using his legs to make plays, such as the type that helped him burst onto the national scene in just a few games last year, he finished with an anemic 14 yards rushing on eight attempts with a score, while finishing 17-34 through the air for just 197 yards and a score.
In his postgame press conference, Tate answered questions about his 34 passes, which is just one less than his career high.
“Part of being a quarterback is throwing the ball, so, that’s just something that I have to do,” said the visibly frustrated Tate.
The frustration wasn’t just limited to the post-game, as the star quarterback and the offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone were spotted by TV cameras in the middle of a shouting match during the second quarter. “It was probably something about getting on the field and moving the ball and putting our team in the best situation to get points,” said Tate.
There is nothing wrong with developing Tate as a thrower or helping him to be a better all-around quarterback, but where is the line of forcing him to do too much too quickly?
Tate’s greatest asset as a football player is his running ability. To cut it completely out of his repertoire in order to forcefully develop him as a pocket-passer seems like a rash decision for a quarterback that started less than half of the games last year.
All while getting used to the extra weight of expectation that has been hoisted upon his teenage shoulders.
Arizona and its new coaching staff are relying on the dynamic quarterback to lead their team by doing things that aren’t his strengths (yet), and the results were exactly what could have been predicted.
Arizona’s plan of keeping Tate in the pocket played right into the hands of BYU, who preferred the fleet-footed quarterback to stay planted behind his offensive linemen, forcing him to make tough throws in tougher situations.
“I just want to win football games,” Tate said when asked if he wanted to run more than he did. The short and sweet answers Tate delivered mirrored his yards-per-carry, as the quarterback stiff armed any questions regarding game plan or offensive scheme.
For a team that has led their conference the last two seasons in rushing, the Wildcats went as far away from their bread and butter as one coaching staff can let it.
The depleted offensive line might have had to do something with this strategy, and BYU’s elderly defense deserves a hat tip as they did as good of a job containing Tate as anyone has.
Still, it’s hard to walk away from this opening season loss with anything other than a terrible taste in one’s mouth.
The perfect opportunity to start the Sumlin era off on the right foot ended with a game that left more questions than answers regarding this football program.
This program is controlled by Sumlin, but the team goes wherever Tate goes. If Tate continues to be pigeonholed in the pocket, this Arizona team will certainly have more nights like they did Saturday.
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